Finally, December came, and the tendencies of absenteeism on the part of the servants showed no signs of abatement. They were remonstrated with, but it made no difference. They didn’t go out, they declared, because they wanted to, but because they had to. Cook couldn’t let her relatives go unattended. Mary’s religious scruples simply dragged her out of the house, try as she would to stay in; and as for John, as long as Dennis was on hand to take his place he couldn’t see why Mr. Perkins was dissatisfied. To tell the truth, John had recently imbibed some more or less capitalistic—or anticapitalistic—doctrines, and he was quite incapable of understanding why, if a street-contractor, for instance, was permitted by the laws of the land to sublet the work for which he had contracted, he, John, should not be permitted to sublet his contract to Dennis, piecemeal, or even as a whole, if he saw fit to do so.
Thaddeus, seeing that Bessie was very much upset by the condition of affairs, had said little about it since Thanksgiving Day, when he had said about as much as the subject warranted after a six-course dinner had been hurried through in one hour, two courses having been omitted that Bridget might catch the train leaving for New York at 3.10. Nor would he have said anything further than the final words of dismissal had he not come home late one afternoon to dress for a dinner at his club, when he discovered that, owing to the usual causes, the week’s wash, which the combined efforts of cook and waitress should have finished that day, was delayed twenty-four hours, the consequence being that Thaddeus had to telephone to the haberdashery for a dress-shirt and collar.
“It’s bad enough having one’s wife buy these things for one, but when it comes to having a salesman sell you over a telephone the style of shirt and collar ‘he always wears himself,’ it is maddening,” began Thaddeus, and then he went on at such an outrageous rate that Bessie became hysterical, and Thaddeus’s conscience would not permit of his going out at all that night, and that was the beginning of the end.
“I’ll fix ’em at Christmas-time,” said Thaddeus.
“You won’t forget them at Christmas, I hope, Thad,” said Bessie, whose forgiving nature would not hear of anything so ungenerous as forgetting the servants during the holidays.
“No,” laughed Thaddeus. “I won’t forget ’em. I’ll give ’em all the very things they like best.”
“Oh, I see,” smiled Bessie. “On the coals-of-fire principle. Well, I shouldn’t wonder but it would work admirably. Perhaps they’ll be so ashamed they’ll do better.”
“Perhaps—if the coals do not burn too deep,” said Thaddeus, with a significant smile.
Christmas Eve arrived, and little Thad’s tree was dressed, the gifts were arranged beneath it, and all seemed in readiness for the dawning of the festal day, when Bessie, taking a mental inventory of the packages and discovering nothing among them for the servants save her own usual contribution of a dress and a pair of gloves for each, turned and said to Thaddeus: